This post was last updated on July 12th, 2020 at 09:44 am
Of all those 17,508 Indonesian islands, the 28 islands of Karimunjawa are definitely worth putting on your bucket list. Karimunjawa is about a 2-hour speedboat ride from the mainland of Central/North Java. Chances are that you have never heard of the archipelago before because tourism is still in its infancy here. That means simple accommodations, very hospitable locals, lots of delicious Indonesian food, and having beautiful beaches all to yourself. What more do you want? This is Karimunjawa!
Karimunjawa Island: the Main Island
Of the 28 Karimunjawa islands, only three or four are inhabited. No one was able to clarify the exact number. There is probably confusion because only one person lives on one island: a hermit. Most people, however, live on the island of the same name, Karimunjawa, and then also in the village of the same name, Karimunjawa. The village of Karimunjawa on Karimunjawa island is where all tourists who visit the Karimunjawa archipelago stay. More and more doors of accommodations and restaurants are opening, so you can see that tourism is increasing. The residents welcome you with open arms.
Visit the Most Beautiful Beaches Around Karimunjawa Island
Around Karimunjawa island you will find plenty of hidden beaches. There are many to choose from, we’ve listed the best for you.
Sunset Beach, Topeng Beach and Tanjung Gelam: Perfect to watch the sunset
The three beaches Topeng Beach, Sunset Beach, and Tanjung Gelam are next to each other and are about fifteen minutes by scooter from the village of Karimunjawa. When you take the exit to the left to set course for the beaches you drive, as it were, through a tiny village where the locals greet you cheerfully. Are you a real beach lover then these beaches are the place to go. There are nice warungs where you can score a nice lunch and there are coconuts and Bintang beers in abundance to keep you hydrated. Around half-past five you can see the sun sink into the Java Sea and you can end your perfect beach day.
Sunrise Beach: Sit around the campfire with a beer
Besides the fact that you can see beautiful sunrises on Sunrise Beach, it is also the place where everyone gathers in the evening after dinner. With beers, local wine, and guitars around the campfire. This is the social hotspot on the island where both tourists and locals gather for a pleasant evening that often lasts until sunrise.
Anora Beach & Love Hill: Stunning view and a lunch stop
If you go further north of the island, Anora Beach is the perfect stop for lunch. There are a number of small food outlets where you can order various Indonesian dishes. When you walk up the love hill that is near the beach, you have a beautiful view over a bay where the water turns into so many different variations of blue.
Batu Putih: The most beautiful beach in the North
The beaches in the north of the island are the least touristy, but also less beautiful than the beaches in the south. After you have seen so many picture-perfect beaches during the snorkel tour, you also become increasingly critical of course. We found Batu Putih the most beautiful beach in the north. It is a small idyllic beach where you can lie in the shade under the low hanging trees and look for beautiful shells.
Eat Fresh Fish at the Pleasant Fish Market
Are you a fan of fresh fish? Then Karimunjawa is the place to be. There is a fish market where you can choose from all kinds of fresh varieties. When you arrive the first thing you hear is “Want fish?”
Take a look and make your choice. One of the employees then cleans the fish, marinates it, and puts it on the barbecue for you. The wait, about 20 minutes, is well worth it.
Besides fish, you can also order standard things like rice, chicken satay, and so on. And also delicious fruit juices prepared by a woman who made us laugh again and again. This, because she was alternately talking to herself and to us and she was cracking up about that.
What we ate often, is an Indonesian pancake with peanuts and chocolate made for dessert. It is rather a type of bread and deliciously filling. The melting chocolate combined with small peanut chunks makes it a delicious whole. The food stall is diagonally opposite the Coconut House at the intersection.
Explore Karimunjawa by Scooter
The easiest way to explore Karimunjawa Island is by scooter. Everyone drives around without a helmet, but if you ask for it, it is sometimes possible to get a helmet. The island is hilly and the roads are generally good with some holes here and there. Along the way, you will meet locals who always greet you very cheerfully. Photogenic oldies, super cute kids, and people at work. Fish is dried along the side of the road and you see people peeling and frying nuts.
You can drive around the island in an hour, but why race through it? It is nice to make stops at the beaches that you can find all around the island. There is also a mangrove forest that you can explore on foot, the cost of which is 150,000 IDR (~ US$10) and is not really in proportion to what you get for it. The decks you walk on are not very good and the price, compared to other highlights on Karimunjawa, is very high. If you do choose to take the mangrove walk, bring good shoes and anti-mosquito repellent.
The Best Restaurants on Karimunjawa
In terms of restaurants, there are a few great options. If you are a fish lover, you really have to go to the market and enjoy delicious fresh fish and corn on the cob from the barbecue. For a nice lunch with a fantastic view over the harbor you can go to restaurant Amore, the Gado Gado is really recommended there. If you want a good western meal, Eat & Meet is a good choice. They have a wood oven there in which they bake delicious pizzas.
If you want to go to a somewhat vegetarian restaurant and a trendy hang-out, Bodhi Tree Guesthouse is your pick. You shouldn’t have too high expectations here for the creativity of the vegetarian dishes and ingredients, but considering the available ingredients on such a remote island, it is perfect!
Visit Unknown Bays
Just like us, rent a scooter and drive past the aforementioned Pancuran Beach (Sunrise Beach). If you cruise through the hilly landscape, you will arrive at several bays that have no official name and are completely deserted. In these bays, you can really get away from it all and have some peace.
Another recommendation is to continue at Batu Topeng to the north and the adjacent island of Pulau Kemojan. First, you will pass beautiful rice fields where you will be completely relaxed.
When we stopped here one day, a local passed by with a few stray goats. A sign that we had arrived in the real Indonesia.
We ended up with pictures of beaches that can be reached via bumpy dirt roads – with a few grazing cows every now and then.
Besides the fun experience to discover unexplored places of this kind, scooter driving over Karimunajawa and Kemojan is quite an experience. The further you drive from the center, the more authentic it becomes. Whichever way you go. Experience it for yourself.
Enjoy Panoramic Views from Love Hill
From the center, you can walk up a hill also known as the “Karimunjawa Love Hill” or “Bukit Love” Indonesian. After a climb of about 10 minutes, you can enjoy a magnificent view of the island and the sea. It is the ideal place to watch the sunset or simply enjoy the wonderful peace.
By the way, there are a few more remarkable things to be found. A kind of bird’s nest that you can sit in and a small viewpoint meant for literally one person (okay maximum two maybe because of the name Love Hill). The creaky little deck that you have to walk over, frankly, gave us quite a bit of anxiety, but we did get there.
Go on an Island and Snorkel Tour
Island-hopping is a must-do in Karimunjawa for anyone who loves tropical islands. It is one of the most important activities on the island. With a boat, you can sail to many exotic places or islands around Karimunjawa.
There are many islands you can visit, such as Menjangan Besar Island or Menjangan Kecil Island which is perfect for snorkeling.
In addition to those Menjangan Islands, there are many more locations you can visit, such as Cemara Besar Island (an island with a wide white sand beach), Cemara Kecil Island (perfect place for lunch), Gosong Seloka Island (an island that only has white sand), Cilik Island (an island with many snorkeling spots and tropical fish).
There’s also Central Island, an island often used for lunch when visiting the eastern islands of Karimunjava.
The Karimunjawa archipelago has been one of the best places we’ve snorkeled at, without exaggeration. Turtles, barracudas, colorful corals, rare starfish, Nemo, you are going to experience it all. And then we haven’t even mentioned the tasty lunch with fresh fish of your choice.
Get Lost on a Deserted Island
Always wanted to stay on an uninhabited island or even stay overnight? It is all possible here.
What we recommend is to speak to a local and ask him to drop you off on an island. We asked the staff at our homestay.
They took us with three other locals to Menjangan Kecil, but also to an island where we had already been during our snorkeling trip: Cemara Kecil. There we spent the afternoon relaxing in a paradise setting and feeling like a kind of Robinson Crusoe.
It often happens that the guesthouse employees go on a snorkeling tour for a day. Be a little assertive and ask them to drop you off at one of the spots. Then they can pick you up again at the end of the afternoon.
You can also spend the night. In many places, you can rent a tent at a low cost, about US$5.
Other Tips for Karimunjawa
- You can now get 24 hours of electricity on the island. Sometimes the power goes out, but this is usually sometime in the afternoon when you are probably enjoying the sun 🙂.
- You can rent scooters in many places for around US$5.50 per 24 hours. Just like us, you can drive to the neighboring Pulau Kemujan where you will meet the kindest locals.
- Is Karimunjawa difficult to reach? That’s what we read everywhere. Nonsense as far as we’re concerned! From Yogyakarta, for example, you can easily get to the island. The bus trip to Jepara, the port, takes 5 to 6 hours, and the next day you take the speedboat to Karimunjawa (2 hours). Isn’t that easy? Also, like us, you can make a stopover in Semarang. From this city, you will be in Jepara in 2 hours. View this website for the current departure times of the fast and slow boat. You can also fly to Karimunjawa from Semarang in 40 minutes and from Surabaya in an hour.
Transport on Karimunjawa
To explore Pulau Karimunjawa you can rent a scooter or bicycle. The scooter is certainly a fun way to explore the island and all the beaches. If you want to see the islands, you can also rent a boat (with a local) and sail around.
TIP – Renting a scooter will cost you around 75,000 IDR per day.
There are two ATMs on the island. You can also pay by credit card in most hotels, although you often pay extra transaction costs. We brought enough cash in advance because our card did not work at the BRI banks in Bukit Lawang (Sumatra) and Yogyakarta.
Most (and best) accommodations can be found at the southern tip of the island. There are also accommodations on the north side, but then you are in a very remote place. It is easier to stay in the south.
Most ho(s)tels have WiFi but don’t expect too much. It is often quite slow. An extra reason to enjoy the island!
Travel to Karimunjawa from Java
There are three options to visit the Karimunjawa islands. You can choose a flight from Surabaya. At the moment, that flight only goes a few times a week and there is only room for 10 passengers at a time. However, they are working on extending the runway. It is expected that this will be completed in early 2019 and that daily flights with more transport capacity can then land. Another option is to visit Karimunjawa island by boat. You can then choose from the fast boat or the slow boat. Both depart from Jepara (approximately 3 hours drive from Semarang).
With the slow boat, you travel to the islands in 4.5 hours, and with the fast boat (Express Bahari) you are there in about two hours. Both depart early, so it is advisable to stay in Jepara before your stay in Karimunjawa. We ourselves stayed in the Gecho Inn Town which is a nice guest house, serves a nice breakfast, and is only a few minutes’ drive from the harbor.
The Best Time to Visit Karimunjawa
The Karimunjawa islands are quite remote and are very dependent on the weather for their visitors. The best time to visit Karimunjawa is from May to September. Traveling to Karimunjawa between October and April means you have to be flexible. It is possible that boats do not sail because the sea is too rough or that airplanes do not land because the weather does not allow it. From May to September, the chance that your boat or flight will be canceled is much smaller.